It must be love

Albion Through My Eyes – Nicolás Dumit Estévez Raful

October 24, 2019

If, as Emily Dickinson’s poem says, ‘“Hope” is the thing with feathers,’ what would “Love” be? I am tempted to give this a tail and four paws instead of the two wings and the beak that are suggested in Dickinson’s piece. Love in my case would be a furry thing that purrs or barks, warm and fuzzy, sometimes flipping on its back for one to scratch its belly, other times giving one a gentle bite with its sharp fangs. There are of course endless iterations of this furry creature amongst a complex menagerie. Love can be easily mistaken by other species, and for the novice it can be as difficult to assess as looking for mushrooms.  It seems that each one of these has an edible and a poisonous counterpart. Love is never sappy, mushy, bubbly or too obvious. It roams the streets of towns and cities, to name a few places, in unsuspecting ways. Love is the thing that one usually perceives through its footprints, after one has crossed paths with it; an afterimage that leaves one’s heart pondering.

Many years ago, while interviewing Pastor Díaz at the Iglesia Evangélica Española del Bronx, this elder paused to tell me something along these lines, “What Manhattan lacks the Bronx has in abundance.” He did not have to name the asset because I have perceived it too, as I walked through the streets of the Boogie Down and watched people build community under the most pressing circumstances. And I have been the beneficiary of this asset in the form of the furtive blessings bestowed on me orally by passersby and neighbors, leaving behind the echo of a long, long, purr. Appreciated. In Albion, love may wear a different coat, yet I have no problem intuiting it. I spotted it in a long conversation with Juanita Solís Kidder, when I learned how she taught GED classes and offered free English lessons to immigrants to the area. She was also involved in planting gardens around town, answering my unstated question as to why do plants bloom. Hence love can play in the ground and get muddy. Pat Tomasik knows about this affair with the Earth, and so I contacted her about planting trees. Our initial communication happened through e-mail and my question to her was not about the meaning of flowers, but how to replant an oak or an apple tree for teacher Lois Frick McClure. It happened that as I was sitting in my preferred meditation spot in town, a Lloyd Park bench by the river, I heard something scratch the grass. Was it love making its rounds in broad daylight? I turned around slowly, and my eyes caught Pat Tomasik sticking a small plastic flag in the mud where a new tree would grow.

Love writes life as its claws interact with the paths it walks day and night. It is a poet who writes in the sand and gives its stanzas to the winds and the waves. However, love does love a good read, especially when done as a communal endeavor. Jessica Roberts acted as its emissary when she dropped off a copy of Ibi Zoboi’s Pride for me at the Bobbitt Visual Arts Center. Zoboi’s writing raises questions not only about race, but also about class and privilege or lack of thereof, as it highlights the uncomfortable conversations that must take place to keep love alive and thriving. Love does not abide by definitions nor does it offer simple answers to one’s conundrums. One must contend with it with great honesty. Remember that this is a creature with paws and claws that can nibble at us at times and keep us awake at night. “In memory of all pitbulls killed from ignorance and fear,” so reads a vinyl sign posted on the glass of a big pickup truck parked outside a store, making me think how love can be easily misunderstood and carelessly wounded. Love has no fear, meanwhile hate is terribly afraid of love. I revel night after night in the cast of Zoboi’s characters and find great joy in matching them with some of my Dominican and Haitian ancestors, my Bronx neighbors and the friends that I am making in Albion. Love is a good author who likes a BIG READ.

I am fortunate to heed the recommendation of an Albion resident and go to Stirling Books and Brew to pick up a copy of Michelle Mueller’s Mr. Bonner: The Story of a Mentoring Journey. Through this book, I am allowed to picture love make its way into basketball courts, homecooked dinners and in and out of mentoring sessions with youngsters at risk. For a while I am tempted to give it a face and a name. That is before I realize how it moves from hand to hand and heart to heart with great ease, belonging to all and to no one in particular. Mr. Bonner’s example illustrates that when talking with a gay godson who was being slandered because of his sexual preference. “You are my Son and you should never be embarrassed at who you are. Always be proud and never stop smiling. I love you!” As I conclude this chapter of his biography late at night, I watch love out of the corner of my eyes wag its tail. I smile in my mind and turn off my reading lamp. I will ask Mr. Bonner about my vision when we meet this Tuesday.

Nicolás Dumit Estévez Raful is the visiting artist at the Albion College. He seeks to meet people in town. To contact him call The Recorder newspaper.

Nicolás Dumit Estévez Raful is a performance artist and teacher who has worked across the USA and internationally at venues such as Madrid Abierto/ARCO, The IX Havana Biennial, PERFORMA 05 and 07, IDENSITAT, Prague Quadrennial, and NYU Cantor Film Center. He has received grants and residencies from Art Matters, Lambent Foundation, MacDowell Colony, National Association of Latino Arts and Culture, Printed Matter Inc., PS1/MoMA, and Yaddo, and holds an MFA from Tyler School of Art, Temple University, and an MA from Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York. Nicolás teaches art at the visionary City & Country School in Manhattan and presents architectural workshops that help SEQ ART KIDS students create their own utopian architecture.